If you’re getting a hint of deja vu from last year, you’re not alone. The Utah Jazz find themselves with the same record they had last year after 28 games. They are 13-15 while staring down the barrel of a soon to be brutal December struggle. It was at this time last year that the Utah Jazz would drop 9 out of their next 12 games.
13-15.....and they went on to lose 9 of their next 12 https://t.co/tMgb1sVr3J— Tony Jones (@Tjonesonthenba) December 11, 2018
What are Utah’s chances that they avoid that same tumble this year? That question is loaded as Utah has been the pinnacle of inconsistency this season. Luckily—or unluckily—so have a good seven teams in the Western Conference.
Utah has some things that are different from last year. They’re all healthy this year and have improved their shooting through Kyle Korver to get them through this brutal stretch. Their rookie phenom is a year older and smarter. But Utah also has a target on its back that the team has struggled with adjusting to.
Another thing that is different is somehow the NBA figured out how to make Utah’s schedule even more difficult than last year. Last year, Utah’s schedule from October to December appeared designed to sink the Jazz’s playoff hopes before they could leave the harbor. This year? It’s almost designed to turn a #5 seed in the playoffs to a #5 seed in the lottery.
Let’s look ahead at the schedule and see if Utah can avoid going 3-9 over their next 12 games.
Miami Heat at Utah Jazz
Carmelo Prediction: 85% chance of winning
Carmelo Record: 1-0
ELO Prediction: 74% chance of winning
ELO Record: 1-0
My Prediction: Utah Jazz win in dominating fashion.
SLC Dunk Record: 1-0
If Utah is to improve over last year’s terrible run, they first have to take care of business against another sub .500 team. Miami handed Utah its worst loss of the season as far as demoralization goes. Miami had no guards available for the game, yet still beat the Utah Jazz. Miami will have Goran Dragic back available for this game. Utah will need to get this win.
Utah Jazz at Orlando Magic (game played in Mexico City)
Carmelo Prediction: 70% chance of winning
Carmelo Record: 2-0
ELO Prediction: 68% chance of winning
ELO Record: 2-0
SLC Dunk Prediction: Utah wins a close, ugly game as the trip to Mexico City makes both teams rusty.
SLC Dunk Record: 2-0
This game could go any number of ways due to the odd nature of playing in Mexico City. The odd road travel may cause either team to be tired due to the odd schedule quirk. This is technically a home game for Orlando, but that doesn’t really mean much on a neutral court. Orlando has shown an ability to beat good teams with wins over Boston, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles (twice). They currently are on a three game losing streak which should end when they play Chicago. A game against Chicago might allow them to get back in rhythm, but Utah, if they are who fans want them to be, should win this game.
Utah Jazz at Houston Rockets
Carmelo Prediction: 28% chance of winning
Carmelo Record: 2-1
ELO Prediction: 36% chance of winning
ELO Record: 2-1
SLC Dunk Prediction: Utah loses while exhausted from the long travel to our neighbors down south.
SLC Dunk Record: 2-1
This will be a loss. Even though Houston is struggling, I can’t see Utah rolling into Houston after being in Mexico two days prior and easily taking care of business. Houston is struggling right now, but any team that has James Harden should scare the Jazz. This feels like a mix of a scheduled loss and destiny.
Golden State Warriors at Utah Jazz
Carmelo Prediction: 50% chance of winning
Carmelo Record: 2-2
ELO Prediction: 50% chance of winning
ELO Record: 2-2
SLC Dunk Prediction: Utah Jazz lose by double digits.
SLC Dunk Record: 2-2
While I have high hopes that Utah tries to prove themselves against the buzzsaw that is the Golden State Warriors, the Warriors now have Steph Curry back, and the Utah Jazz haven’t been able to play their brand of defense with the officiating focus on that end of the ball. Utah might put up a strong fight, but lately Utah has been getting blown out by good teams whether it is at home or on the road.
Utah Jazz at Portland Trail Blazers
Carmelo Prediction: 35% chance of winning
Carmelo Record: 2-3
ELO Prediction: 42% chance of winning
ELO Record: 2-3
SLC Dunk Prediction: Utah plays tough and loses a heartbreaker.
SLC Dunk Record: 2-3
Portland ... on the road ... right after the Warriors? Why do the schedule makers hate Utah so? This will be another loss as Utah has struggled in Portland. Portland has been Utah’s weakness ever since Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum were first paired together. This should be a close game, but with Portland playing at home, this should be another loss for Utah.
Oklahoma City Thunder at Utah Jazz
Carmelo Prediction: 53% chance of winning
Carmelo Record: 3-3
ELO Prediction: 53% chance of winning
ELO Record: 3-3
SLC Dunk Prediction: Jazz play this one close, but OKC wins this.
SLC Dunk Record: 2-4
Carmelo and ELO like Utah’s chances in this one, but I don’t. Not by a long shot. The Thunder have the league’s best defense and they’ll face a Jazz team that will be playing its third game in four nights and on the second half of a back to back. The Jazz just were torn apart by the Thunder in OKC, and OKC is looking to get some additional revenge against Utah for that unceremonious departure from the playoffs last year by the hands of Utah.
Portland Trail Blazers at Utah Jazz
Carmelo Prediction: 73% chance of winning
Carmelo Record: 4-3
ELO Prediction: 63% chance of winning
ELO Record: 4-3
SLC Dunk Prediction: Call this a reverse jinx. Utah Jazz lose on national tv and ruin Christmas.
SLC Dunk Record: 2-5
The Christmas day game. The Jazz will have a ton of national exposure for this one and that is frightening as they play their achilles heel for the second game in a row. This time they’ll have the advantage of being at home, but they could be entering the game on a two game losing streak. Both Carmelo and ELO like the Jazz to win this game, but this just feels like a loss, especially with the Portland Trail Blazers having the 8th best offense in the league.
Philadelphia 76ers at Utah Jazz
Carmelo Prediction: 62% chance of winning
Carmelo Record: 5-3
ELO Prediction: 58% chance of winning
ELO Prediction: 5-3
SLC Dunk Prediction: Utah loses as Jimmy Butler gets all the space he needs to dominate.
SLC Dunk Record: 2-6
The Carmelo and ELO predictions feel as though they’re giving Utah too much credit for this matchup ... or maybe that’s just the right amount as this game is close to a toss up. Philadelphia is currently 19-9 on the season and since acquiring Jimmy Butler, they have been on a tear. Embiid is really good at pulling Gobert away from the basket, Ben Simmons is a nightmare at the four, and Jimmy Butler is a closer. This is a very tough matchup for any team, and for Utah this feels like kryptonite.
New York Knicks at Utah Jazz
Carmelo Prediction: 53% chance of winning
Carmelo Record: 6-3
ELO Prediction: 92% chance of winning
ELO Record: 6-3
SLC Dunk Prediction: Easy win at home.
SLC Dunk Record: 3-6
FINALLY. Some relief. The Utah Jazz get some much needed lottery team competition after a brutal stretch. New York has surprised a few teams, but they aren’t good. Jazz should win this one easy even if past Jazzmen Enes Kanter and Trey Burke show up big in this one.
Utah Jazz at Toronto Raptors
Carmelo Prediction: 24% chance of winning
Carmelo Record: 6-4
ELO Prediction: 26% chance of winning
ELO Record: 6-4
SLC Dunk Prediction: “Clever girls.” Toronto in a blowout.
SLC Dunk Record: 3-7
This could get ugly really quick. Toronto with Kawhi Leonard is a championship team. Not just a “make the finals appearance team” but a legit push the Golden State Warriors to 7 games a win team. Playing Toronto on the road and winning was a big turning point for Utah last year, but you can’t put lightning in a bottle.
Utah Jazz at Cleveland Cavaliers
Carmelo Prediction: 77% chance of winning
Carmelo Record: 7-4
ELO Prediction: 56% chance of winning
ELO Record: 7-4
SLC Dunk Prediction: Jazz win this one easy.
SLC Dunk Record: 4-7
This is what you call a rock bottom game. Similar to last year when Utah lost to Atlanta before getting their overtime win against the Detroit Pistons, if the Utah Jazz drop this game, it’ll be time to panic. This is a brutal schedule but you expect your team to show up against the bad teams. Utah needs every win they can get in this brutal stretch. I may not be optimistic about Utah’s December schedule, but not even I can get down on the Jazz’s chances on this one.
Sidenote: This game does have all the signs of an Alec Burks/Rodney Hood revenge game.
Utah Jazz at Detroit Pistons
Carmelo Prediction: 44% chance of winning
Carmelo Record: 7-5
ELO Prediction: 47% chance of winning
ELO Record: 7-5
SLC Dunk Prediction: Utah puts up a fight but falls in the end as Detroit avenges their loss to Utah in overtime from last year.
SLC Dunk Record: 4-8
Second game of a back to back against Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond? This seems ripe for a loss. Carmelo and ELO both agree. This just doesn’t seem to work in Utah’s favor. Third game in four nights, the cold of winter, and Detroit is playing good ball. I see the Jazz losing this one.
My pessimism puts them at 4-8. That’s technically better than 3-9 but not the type of improvement you’d be hoping for.
The FiveThirtyEight modeling has Utah finishing this stretch at 7-5. If Utah were to finish at 7-5 over their next 12 that would put them squarely at .500. That’s exactly where they need to be to go on a run and stay playoff competitive. So the rosy perspective gives Utah some good hope.
But ... there’s a slight problem.
You know that schedule that everyone has been saying will lighten up in January. Well ... in the Jazz’s next 12 games, three of them will be in that January stretch: Toronto, Cleveland, and Detroit. Oh and there’s another doozy, the game right after that stretch is against Milwaukee in Milwaukee. OUCH.
But then it gets easier ... except it doesn’t.
Utah then plays the Magic, Lakers, Bulls, and Pistons at home. By the way, the Lakers and Bulls are a back to back. Utah could exert all their energy to the Lakers and come out flat against a terrible team on the end of the back to back. Then a quick road trip to the overachieving Clippers then back home to play the Cavs, Blazers, Nuggets, and Timberwolves.
But don’t worry it eases up for the last two games of the month ... except it doesn’t.
Utah then goes on the road for a quick road trip to Minnesota to play the Timberwolves then out to Portland to lace it up against the Trail Blazers. That’s Utah’s “easy” January, by the way.
But don’t worry, the schedule gets easier in February ... except it doesn’t.
Aside from playing the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns, Utah has to play the Rockets, Spurs, Mavericks, and Clippers at home. They have to go on the road to face the Warriors, Thunder, and Nuggets.
But don’t worry the Jazz’s schedule finally eases up in March ... well ... not the beginning of March.
They have to play the Bucks and Pelicans at home, then go on the road and play the Pelicans again then the Grizzlies THEN come back to Utah to play the Thunder.
Then ... THEN ... the schedule finally gets easier. So all Utah has to do is wait until March 13th for game 67. Then they’ll be able to turn this thing around.
“The search for a scapegoat is the easiest of all hunting expeditions.”
— Dwight D. Eisenhower
Now doesn’t that seem to put some urgency into Utah’s current situation? Blaming the schedule seems very in vogue because it’s a great neutral thing to put blame on. It’s not Utah’s fault that they’re losing games. It’s the schedule. It’s not that Utah isn’t improving, it’s just their schedule is increasing in difficult. It’s not the coach’s fault. It’s not the front office’s fault and so on ... and so on ... and so on.
There’s no magic pill coming for Utah in January, no savior, nor Deus Ex Machina—unless that’s through a trade on January 15th. Even then, it could prove to be too little, too late. The schedule can’t save Utah, Utah must save Utah. The Jazz have to dig deep now and turn it around. If they don’t, their season could be over.
Last year, before the Jae Crowder-Rodney Hood trade had happened, Utah started their winning streak against two really tough teams on the road: Detroit and Toronto. They didn’t need a trade, they didn’t need some magical speech, they just did it against tall odds. If they started that turnaround two games later against non playoff teams last year when the schedule finally “eased up,” they’re not in the playoffs. They would have been in the Clippers’ or Nuggets’ shoes in April.
Utah also can’t assume that an equal streak of games can occur if they’re 9 games under .500 in January. Lightning won’t strike twice, not this year, not in this crowded Western Conference. They have to decide that the schedule is no longer a scapegoat and that the only thing that is culpable in these losses is them—no one or thing else.
Can Utah avoid a slump like last year? I’m doubtful. Then again I was doubtful that they could turn it around so late in the season last year. One thing I am certain of, if they mire themselves in the gulch deep into January like last year, they’ll be on the outside looking in come playoff time.